Rules exist for a reason. Saying so may make me sound like your least favorite teacher, but that does not make it any less true. Have you ever wondered about the reasoning behind some of the internet’s dos and don’ts? Let’s look at a few of these rules and where they come from. Netiquette may be more important to your business than you think.

Being Polite Online: Netiquette for Everyone

First, some of the basic web etiquette for all of us web users out there. These are rules like “don’t overshare on Facebook” and using correct – or at least intelligible – spelling and grammar in comments and posts. So what do they have to do with digital advertising? Quite a bit.

Your company’s online presence is the face you’re putting forward for your customers. A website or digital marketing campaign that doesn’t follow the rules is like having a waiter who ignores their tables or a salesperson who shows up in pajamas. Except it’s even worse: the employee you can correct or send home after a few customer interactions. Your website is representing you to a far greater audience, all the time.

So, what does this mean? Be aware of these internet etiquette rules and apply them. In social media campaigns and digital ads, be polite and professional:

  • Make sure your copy is spelled correctly.
  • Check for typos.
  • Don’t “shout” in all caps.
  • Keep messages short and to the point.
  • Use email marketing appropriately.

The “why” for most of these should be obvious. You want your company to make a good impression. Just imagine if a résumé was full of text speak, typos, sentences in all-caps, and rambling descriptions of why a particular job experience was significant. Would you be impressed?

Being Professional Online: Netiquette for Web Design

Above and beyond this basic internet etiquette are the rules for good web design. These may be a little less obvious, so I’ll go through them more carefully.

Using HTML Tables

table layoutIf you’d like a table in your website, by all means use the table markup for it. That’s why we have table markup. But please, please, please do not use tables to try to control your layout.* Doing so is like insisting on continuing to use fountain pens and stationary for internal office communications when all your coworkers are using email. It’s not only outdated, it’s inefficient.

HTML is for content; CSS is for styling. Why is this important? Because using table markup as your layout means that you are using language meant to define content to try to express your style. Screen readers and web crawlers (and yes, if you don’t care about web crawlers, you should. How else do you think Google Search indexes your site?) will assume that content inside the <table></table> tags is, in fact, table data.

Using tables for styling was an early web work-around. It is no longer necessary, and has become inferior to other options. CSS can pull off some amazing tricks these days. You can use the same exact HTML and, through careful planning, display that unchanging content differently based on screen size and device capabilities.

*An exception to this rule is in emails. There are still some email programs (I’m looking at you, Outlook!) that are running on limited ability to apply CSS that essentially set them back in time to the early web. To create an email layout with minimal potential to break, table formatting is still the best option. Etiquette will bow to necessity.

Consistency & Fonts

So now you’re ready to work on your site’s styling through CSS. There are a potentially overwhelming variety of cool tricks that CSS is capable of – but don’t overdo it. Keeping your website consistent is a key point of good design. Consistency is what makes your site look professional.

Keep all your repeated elements – header, footer, main navigation – located and styled consistently. Create a style guide and basic templates, so that grammar choices and presentation will mesh throughout the site, rather than jamming together competing styles and voices.

Remember what font – or fonts – you’re using. It may be very tempting to include multiple unique fonts, but just because we now have the ability to do so does not mean we should. As one blogger aptly pointed out, too many fonts will look more like a ransom note than a professional site.

Remember, the goal is to create and maintain a consistent style that makes each page, and the site as a whole, appear professional rather than cobbled together.

Keep it simple; keep it readable.


I’ve already touched on this point a little, by pointing out that using tables for layout can cause confusion over the purpose of the content. This is only the tip of the iceberg, however. Your website must be accessible to as many users as possible – ideally, all of them.

This does not just mean compatibility between devices, browsers, and screen sizes, but also with varying browser settings and through screen readers for those who use them. Remember, Google’s web crawler approaches many things in the same way as a screen reader – so this is not a possibility that can be ignored.

What is the main difference between a visual browser and a screen reader or web crawler? Images, of course. This is the reason for requiring alt text on all images, a netiquette rule you may have heard before. Since pictures cannot be seen, a good descriptive and/or explanatory alt text should be in place.

This is also why it’s not the best idea to use an image as your heading. Images are images. They are not text; they cannot be read by technology nor do they flow to fit a space.

Finally, be aware of add-ons that may be uninstalled or deactivated on some computers. Be especially careful of flash; most mobile devices won’t run it.

A good design rule to work by is to always test your site with your add-ons turned off. You do not want to be so dependent on JavaScript or Flash or any other plugin that your site breaks down without it. For JavaScript, at least, you can use the <noscript> tag to help replace pieces that may not otherwise work.

Topics: SEO | Web Design